Should Australian soccer’s governing body carry the blame for its own potential Grand Final nightmare?
There is a strong chance that Melbourne Victory could qualify to host the May 17 title-defining match. But if it does, there is no suitable ground available in Melbourne to host a game of this proportion as Etihad Stadium, which has hosted three Grand Finals in the A-League’s 10-year history, is unavailable.
The AFL fixture between the Western Bulldogs and Fremantle Dockers has been scheduled for the venue on that date and the AFL, as major tenant at the venue, is within its rights to keep the game there even though it is unlikely it could draw anything like the 55,000 sell-out an A-League Grand Final would.
The situation is hypothetical at the moment, as Victory would have to finish in the top two and win its semi-final to host the game. But the FFA, having deemed AAMI Stadium, whose capacity is at best 30,000, to be unsuitable, is now scrambling to do a deal with Australian Rules governing body to try to free up Etihad.
The AFL is widely regarded to perceive soccer as the biggest potential threat to its dominance in the Australian sporting landscape and soccer supporters are always quick to detect a slight or conspiracy where the Australian game’s relationship with its sport are concerned.
But the indigenous game’s ruling body says that it was initially informed last year by the FFA that it planned to host the championship decider on May 10, not May 17, and worked its fixture accordingly, with two games, originally scheduled at Etihad for the weekend May 8-10. That could theoretically have left the stadium clear for soccer if needed.
AFL documents dated October 29 last year show that the FFA then approached it in late October to see if it could keep the May 17 slot free as that was now the date for the Grand Final.
AFL records show that it told the FFA it could not do so as it was well advanced with its fixture and that it had less flexibility to rearrange things in 2015 because of the Cricket World Cup, which was using the MCG all through March.
The FFA is anxious to ensure that the Grand Final is played in the city of the club that qualifies to host it. Only on one occasion, when Central Coast played Newcastle, did they move the match away from the provincial venue it should have been staged in.
FFA officials believe the AFL may be open to make a move if the money is right, with the Dogs v Dockers game staged at another AFL-sanctioned Victorian venue. Etihad Stadium would also benefit greatly in revenue terms from a sell-out crowd with full corporate facilities, food and drink sales and car parking, so it could form part of any financial settlement if one does eventuate.
But the AFL powerbrokers are under no obligation to shift their match even though to do so would be widely seen as a goodwill gesture by Victoria’s dominant football code.
How much of this is down to the FFA’s changing of its date is a good question. But it is one that will haunt it if Victory qualify to host the title decider and the match has to be shifted interstate, as has been mooted. This will play out for a while yet unless Victory fail to finish in the top two and thus cannot host the Grand Final.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.